(translated from a sermon by Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th Century France)
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a leader and reformer of the Cistercian monastic movement, brought a very dramatic and imaginative mind to his preaching and teaching. In the following sermon, based on the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would bear the promised Messiah, Bernard drew out all the historic importance of Mary's response with the flair of a modern screenwriter. What follows are some excerpts from that sermon:
Luke 1: 26- 35. In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said: “…….The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. So the holy one to be born of you will be called the Son of God.”
The angel has spoken, he awaits your response.
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son, not by a man—you have understood—but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits your response. It is time that he returns to the One who sent him. We also await your response. We as well, overwhelmed by misery through a sentence of condemnation, we await a word of compassion. See how that which is offered you is the price of our salvation. If you consent, we will thereby be free. By the eternal Word of God, we have all been created; and we die. By your brief response, we will be recreated, to be called to life.
All your ancestors await your reply.
Your response, Sweet Virgin, Adam implores you, in many tears, exile that he is from paradise, along with his poor descendants. Your reply Abraham implores, David entreats, all of them cry out for it instantly; the holy fathers, they are your ancestors and they inhabit, themselves, the country of the shadow of death. Your reply the entire world awaits, prostrate at your knees. And its not without reason, because on your word depends the consolation of the miserable, the ransom of the captives, the deliverance of the condemned, in a word, the salvation of all the sons of Adam, who are all of your race…..
….Hasten! Reply quickly to the angel, or rather, to the Lord by means of the angel. Reply with one word, and welcome the Word. Pronounce your own word, and conceive the Word of God. Utter a passing word, and bear in your womb the eternal Word.
Why wait? Why tremble? Believe, speak and welcome. May your humility be dressed with audacity, your reserve with assurance. Surely, it is not seemly in this instance that the simplicity of your virginal heart would forget prudence; but in this unique circumstance, prudent woman, don't worry at all about presumption. If your reserve in silence is pleasing to God, how much more necessary is the commitment of your word? Blessed Virgin, open your lips in consent, open your heart to the Creator.
Behold how the Desired of All Nations stands and knocks at your door. Oh! What if, while you linger, he were to pass elsewhere, obliging you to search, in tears, for him whom your heart loves? Arise, run and open! Arise by faith, run in fervor, open, by the expression of your reply!
“'Behold,' she said, 'the handmaid of the Lord; may it be to me according to your word.'” (Luke 1: 38)